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The Devil's Advocate: Sandboxes and Storybricks

Column By Victor Barreiro Jr. on May 03, 2013

When Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) announced it was reworking Everquest Next to turn it into a sandbox, I was pleased and worried at the same time. According to SOE President John Smedley, it was because they weren't happy with the game. They wanted to make something equally monumental, it seems, and SOE was willing to put some time and money into creating something that would serve as a rallying point for the future of MMORPGs.

I was excited by the prospect of playing a Sarnak or Ratonga in a sandbox setting, but I was also hesitant because they were trying to predict a trend that could change with any new development that arose between start date to end date.

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Fast forward six or so months, and the latest announcement for Everquest Next came from the team at Namaste Entertainment. They sent out an announcement saying Namaste was going to collaborate on Everquest Next. Nothing else was really said, but there was enough in that teaser to get everyone speculating, because the running idea seems to be that Everquest Next will find a way to implement the Storybricks system. It's an interesting step, and one that I think deserves some attention.

Making People

It's been a while since I read up on Storybricks, and right now, most of the official pages that house that information seem to have gone into the ether, so I'll have to wing it. As far as I remember, and you are free to add corrections or additions here, here's how Storybricks works.

A number of games focus on creating quests or activities for people to do. Whether by the creation of systems that generate drama (like EVE or Darkfall most notably) or the creation of augmentations to game systems that allow users to make their own quests for sharing with others (Star Trek Online, Neverwinter, etc.), the basic idea is that players essentially can create their own content.

Storybricks, for lack of a better way of explaining it, allows players to create people (NPCs, basically) that basically live in the game world. The difference between a Storybricks person and a foundry quest or a common NPC is the intent. A Storybricks person is basically built with a set of likes and dislikes, as well as an objective or set of ideas he wants to pursue. The Storybricks person essentially mingles with players and other NPCs or Storybricks people in a way that is known only to him and his creator.

Now, imagine that 1,000 players all made one Storybricks person. That's 1,000 new, seemingly permanent staples of the game that act in ways players can't completely predict, creating content for players, whether it be a simple request from one NPC or a duel between an angry noble and a noble peasant, based on their interactions with what's around them.

Hidden from View

Everquest Next itself is the greater unknown determinant here, since there's not a lot of information to go on regarding how this game works. Even though we have a video from March with Dave Georgeson explaining the design philosophy behind Everquest Next, the only thing we really know is that it's a sandbox.


From the video, it becomes evident that they're keeping quiet about things so as to allow for a flood of information later on, but it's still a bit disheartening to see that any notable detail regarding what people can even do in the game has been generally hidden from view. Storybricks even got in a bit of trouble with their announcement, being prompted to erase traces of the announcement. Though it's a little too late for that, it's also telling that SOE really wants to make the big reveal something worth having.

My EQ Next Wishlist

While we wait for Everquest Next and wonder how SOE will implement the Storybricks tech into the new game, I wanted to end with some basic requests for SOE for EQ Next's eventual major reveal, given the growing breadth and depth of MMO gaming today. The basic idea of my wishlist is simple though: SOE should strive to give people options for creating something meaningful out of their time in the game.

If SOE wants to implement housing, it better make a housing system worth striving to master and fun to decorate. If they want to add full-loot PVP, then it better have a rewarding combat system. If it wants to improve on questing, then it better add different ways for quests to be made.

The bottom line, thus, is this: For all the secrecy and talk, interested parties need something more substantial to keep them rooting for SOE. While the Storybricks reveal was good, people, myself included want something to remember in the next reveal.

Sony, the ball's in your court.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and ArcheAge columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.


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The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Advocate is an opportunity for the oft-shunned and little discussed “Other Side of the Story” to be heard, promoting open discussion on a heavily contested subject.
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